New York Times: Democrats Betray Consumers
July 29, 2005In spite of the votes of a few brave Democrats, and the need of a few Republicans to cover themselves, this was basically a party-line vote.
Applauding the Cafta 15
In the wee hours yesterday, the House of Representatives passed the Central American Free Trade Agreement by a sliver of two votes. Fifteen Democrats joined 202 Republicans in voting to open up trade between the United States and El Salvador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic. Anyone who believes, as this page does, that the benefits of free trade outweigh those of protectionism should give a pat on the back to the Democrats who chose principle over politics and defied their party's leaders to vote for the trade pact.
Trade votes are always cliffhangers, and Cafta was no exception. The vote, which started just after 11 p.m., took almost an hour as some Republicans, many from textile states, jockeyed over who would be allowed to vote against the bill and save face back home. But the Republicans who voted for Cafta at least did so knowing that they were ensuring for themselves the approval of their party leaders, including President Bush. Many of the Democrats who voted for the pact knew that they were practically guaranteeing themselves a primary fight come next election. Indeed, organized labor was already talking yesterday morning about extracting revenge. "Punish the Cafta 15" was a headline in Working Life, a pro-labor blog.
Labor unions should obviously give their support to anyone they deem fit. But the Cafta 15 deserve respect for their independence and good judgment. Cafta is a modest trade pact, hardly likely to lift the six countries' economies into the 21st century. But it may be enough to lift them into the 20th century by lowering tariffs and helping job growth in a needy region. It should help export growth in America as well. The American Farm Bureau Federation estimated that Cafta could increase United States agricultural exports by nearly $1.5 billion a year; the National Association of Manufacturers said it would add about $1 billion a year to the value of United States exports of manufactured goods.
Finally, Cafta will benefit the most underrepresented constituency in America: consumers, particularly the lower-income consumers who find that a 50-cent difference in the price of a T-shirt actually means something.
The Republicans voted for consumers, and the Democrats for special interests, most especially the labor unions.